Article 50 negotiations are set to begin early next year for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and it seems increasingly likely that the Brussels team will adopt a hard line stance, stalling and delaying until the two allotted years are up.
There is no logical reason why the EU would choose to pursue a bad deal against the interests of both parties. After all, the UK is a major importer of European goods, so any attempt to cut us off would be somewhat self-defeating.
That said, there is no reason to expect logic, or even sanity, from the people who brought us Schengen and the Single Currency. Britain has dared to spit in the face of the European Project, a certain strain of thought holds, so now it should be punished to deter others from making the same fateful error.
The EU negotiating team will be led by two individuals – Guy Verhofstadt and Michel Barnier – with, shall we say, a less-than complimentary attitude to the UK. EU officials are said to believe that Britain will simply give up if they make the Article 50 process hard enough for us.
Particularly fanatical or bitter Remainers will no doubt take this moment to indulge in a spot of ‘I told you so!’. We have been told again and again that EU leaders are spiteful. That if we left they would shut out our trade, reject our friendship, and exert every diplomatic fibre to make sure other nations did the same.
The obvious counter to such arguments is this: why would we want to be ruled by such people? Better to be an isolated pariah state cut off from Christmas markets, excellent wine, smelly cheese and fine art forever, than back down to bullies.
This is a dangerous game for Brussels and its allies. If it insists on treating Britain like a pariah for exercising its democratic rights, it risks souring Anglo-European relations for a generation.
That might just be rather awkward for them if they ever needed to cash in on our friendship again. Say, if the Euro collapses under the weight of its own folly. Or Mr Putin decides to send his tank divisions on a jolly through Eastern Europe.
Brussels has no mythical power to destroy us. Should negotiations fail Britain will default to the World Trade Organisation minimum, with both sides raising relatively low tariffs on trade. This is obviously far from ideal, but it is hardly the prophesied apocalypse. Trade, tourism and cultural links will not disappear overnight.
Better still, free of the Single Market and its common external tariffs, Britain has a real opportunity to become a global free-trading superpower. Australia, New Zealand and India are all interested in UK trade deals. Canada is rapidly tiring of EU trade negotiations.
Free of EU regulation and forced to maintain it’s global competitiveness, Britain could well become a sort of northern Hong Kong – a dazzling free market entrepôt in a sea of stagnant grey socialism.
Personally, I think that outcome would be well worth straining our ties with a declining 1950s era trade bloc run by perfidious,domineering, grasping continentals.